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Senegalese men arrested over gay wedding photos

Is country fit to host AIDS conference?

The arrest of several men in Senegal has gay rights groups questioning whether the West African nation is fit to host an AIDS conference later this year.

Police in Dakar — the capital of Senegal — arrested between seven and 20 men after a local magazine published photographs of a marriage ceremony between two men. Police have not revealed where the men are being held, only that they are charged with suspicion of homosexuality.

Homosexual acts are prohibited under Senegalese law, with punishment ranging from one to five years in prison, and fines from $200 to $3,000.

The wedding pictures were published in Icone magazine, and the BBC reports that at least five of the men arrested appeared in the wedding photographs.

“Mass arrests of people simply because they are gay terrorize the entire community,” says Paula Ettelbrick, the executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

While Senegalese gay men and women remain socially marginalized, the country is considered one of the most progressive in Africa on the issue of homosexuality, says the IGLHRC.

“The government has included a commitment to fighting HIV among men who have sex with men in its national AIDS response plan since 2005,” says Joel Nana, the IGLHRC’s program associate for West Africa. “That’s why we found these arrests to be very distressing.”

Dakar is set to host the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Dec 2008.

“There will be no room for an open and inclusive discussion on the human rights dimensions of HIV in the face of such harassment,” says Danilo da Silva, co-chair of Pan Africa International Lesbian and Gay Association. “We expect more from a leading country like Senegal.”